I hate kids. In movies and in life. They’re loud; they’re obnoxious; and they can’t act. If I had it my way, kids wouldn’t be allowed in movies, or in theaters. I’m a terrible person; I know.
So when I tell you that I thought the kids in “Super 8” gave some of the best performances I’ve seen in a long time, know that that does mean something.
Think of “Super 8” as a modern-day “E.T.” It’s scarier and way crazier. It’s dark, enigmatic and much more violent than you’d expect. It’s thrilling and shocking and captivating all at once. And most importantly – just like “E.T.” – it’s an alien movie that’s not really about aliens.
“Super 8” is about six friends on a journey. Together, they quibble and fight and laugh and cry, and so do you. You feel like you’re the unseen seventh friend, always just out of frame. Their emotion is real, and so yours is real, too.
“Super 8” is about a budding teenage romance. Furtive eyes and awkward, crooked smiles; nervous hands that touch accidentally then pull away quickly; lips that get closer and closer but never quite kiss. It’s visceral and raw enough to rouse butterflies in your stomach just watching it.
“Super 8” is about a father and son’s splintered relationship in the wake of the mother’s death, and whether or not they can ever truly move on. You see the shared pain in their eyes, each person a living reminder for the other of a wound that refuses to heal.
The alien in “Super 8” barely even matters: it’s nothing more than a catalyst to pull everyone together. It could’ve just as easily been an earthquake, an asteroid or some zany mystery that only a ragtag group of friends can solve. Is that a good thing? Well, yes and no.
I went into “Super 8” expecting the draw to be the alien, the intrigue and the conspiracy. I expected to be wowed by insane special effects and director J. J. Abrams’ (“LOST,” “Star Trek”) love of stylish lens flare. And to be fair, I totally was. But that’s not what had me so enthralled.
No, what propelled me through “Super 8” were the incredible performances from the kids. Elle Fanning, in particular, who plays Alice Dainard in the film, completely blew me away, acting on a level far beyond her years. There’s a naked emotion there, an unfeigned grace that’s so rare to see in actors that have been practicing the craft for decades, much less in a 13-year-old girl.
As a result, the alien turned out to be the least interesting part of “Super 8.” It’s all stuff you’ve seen before, especially if you’re familiar with Abrams’ past work on “Cloverfield” and “Star Trek” that proves he only has one monster design. All the standard “man is the true monster” themes apply here, which is a little disappointing considering Abrams’ pedigree, but it’s still extremely engaging in the moment – if nothing else, Abrams has always been a fantastic storyteller.
“Super 8” is about being whisked away, immersed completely in another world, just like you were the first time you saw “E.T.” as a kid. It’s nostalgic and inspired and absorbing in all the best possible ways. It strikes a chord that most movies today don’t even bother attempting to hit, and it’s hard to imagine someone walking away disappointed.
Image courtesy of zatskavski.com